Lizella couple continuing six generations of pottery making

LIZELLA – For six generations, the Merritt family has thrown clay onto spinning wheels, turning it into pots, jugs, bowls and other pieces of art.

Mark Merritt is the current master craftsman from a family that has been creating clay pieces in Crawford County since the Civil War.

Merritt and his wife, Coni, will be among the 58 artists who display their works at the fourth annual Fired Works show, which begins tonight with a preview party and opens Saturday at Central City Park in Macon.

The show provides opportunities for artists such as the Merritts to display and sell their wares and for children to learn what goes into pottery making. In addition, collectors and art aficionados can view and purchase pottery crafted by artists from across the country.

“It’s probably the biggest eclectic pottery show in the Southeast,” Coni Merritt said. “It’s been going on for four years, and we’ve been a part of it for all four years. (The pottery) is eclectic, a lot of it is modern art. ... More and more people are getting interested in it. They are looking for pottery shows for pottery collecting.”

Heatherly Darnell, the gallery manager for Macon Arts, said the show drew about 2,000 people last year, and organizers are hoping to at least match that number for the nine days the show runs this year.

“Ceramics are big around here,” she said. “It’s very appealing to Georgia. ... Clay is such an important part of Georgia. You can form it into something that’s both functional and lovely to look at.”

Mark Merritt runs Lizella Clay Co., a business his father started about 40 years ago. The business supplies sculpting clay to grade schools and colleges in the South, he said.

When the Merritts married seven years ago, they decided to make their own clay pieces as a hobby and side business. Mark Merritt forms the clay on a spinning wheel while Coni applies the glaze after the piece has dried. The clay is then fired in a kiln that reaches temperatures of about 2,000 degrees.

After the pieces cool, the Merritts decorate them, then fire them in a kiln once more. Mark Merritt said even though it only takes him a few minutes to form a piece of clay, the entire process of turning a lump of clay into a finished piece of art usually takes several days.

One of the Merritts’ specialties is face jugs, which are fairly distinctive in their appearance. Darnell said the artists at Fired Works bring their own distinctive style to their pieces. She noted that clay pots and jugs, which have been used for centuries, provide a contrast to the plastic cups of today. One of the Georgia artists who will be displaying his wares at Fired Works forms his clay pieces to resemble modern plastic items as an ironic statement, Darnell said.

In addition to displaying his creations, Mark Merritt also will be one of the instructors teaching children how to throw clay. There will be free workshops for students ages 5-12 for the next two Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. A free instructional workshop for pottery teachers is scheduled April 25 from 1 to 3 p.m.

In addition to the classes, several other programs are part of Fired Works, Darnell said. Among them are a free tour of the home of Amy Hellis on Saturday afternoon, and she teaches people how to build their own home studio; a $15 workshop conducted by local interior designer C. Terry Holland on how to use pottery as a decorative element; and a “Pottery Roadshow” this Sunday when people can have their pottery pieces appraised for $5 apiece.

“If you like pottery, you are going to love Fired Works,” Mark Merritt said. “It’s fun to meet other people and talk about pottery.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.